Supporting Cast and Characters
No talk about a Marvel property would be complete without a look at who else showed up! Marvel is notorious for sliding characters in unexpectedly or as completely reimagninged versions of themselves and DD and JJ are no different.
Pretty much everyone who had any amount of screen time in either show was someone from the Marvel-verse. Some of them were simply homage’s, while others were a much more obvious tie-in to the interconnected universe. From Stick tying Daredevil to Iron Fist, to the murder Karen commits in episode 1 being a direct reference to Kilgrave, Jessica’s friend Trish being Hellcat, Will Simpson aka Nuke, Jeri Hogarth is now a woman played terrifically by Carrie-Ann Moss, Foggy Nelson, Rosario Dawson as the Night Nurse, Nobu, etc. We haven’t even touched on how Elektra and Punisher are coming to season two of Daredevil either. I could go on and on and on but it would in essence end up with me reading off the cast list and explaining who they are.
What I’m getting at is that The Defenders shows aren’t simply an expansion of the MCU but more like an extension. Characters that they can’t get into the movies have found themselves on Agents of SHIELD, but more importantly, have filled out the roster for The Defenders shows to a nerds dream come true. Couple this with all the Easter Eggs, like Simpsons American flag Zippo for instance, and Netflix/Marvel have delivered a feast for a Marvel nerd to consume.
However, something became obvious to me as I watched the two season. Daredevil is just as chock full of Marvel characters as Jessica Jones, but they played a much more minor role. Will Simpson, Trish Walker and Luke Cage were major characters in Jessica Jones with implications for much greater influence on that show moving forward. While Daredevil also relied on Foggy and the Night Nurse in pretty big roles, it’s pretty clear that Daredevil is a big enough name that he was able to carry his show on his own.
Jessica Jones suffered a little bit from the ‘who is this?’ question that follows around Marvel characters who aren’t Avengers. So, it’s pretty clear that they backed up her little known character with a multitude of other lesser known characters to not only help flesh out Jessica Jones, but also to develop other lesser known names as well. It worked out great for Jones as all of these characters helped carry the show and it seems like a great idea to help buoy the rest of the Defenders team as well.
With the reference list for Luke Cage already beginning to read about as long, I can only suspect that Iron Fist will follow suit. With a long, long history to delve into, Marvel has the luxury of drawing on any number of stories and characters to help fill out their shows. Doing so has the two pronged effect of not only helping out the current characters and shows but also leaving a trail of reference bread crumbs for the knowledgeable fan to follow and feel satisfaction over. With this model working so well so far, I can’t wait to see what else Marvel will roll out in the rest of the series.
Success and Lessons to Learn
It’s of no real surprise that both Daredevil and Jessica Jones are hits. The Marvel brand is almost infallible right now and the two shows are genuinely great TV. But Marvel is about to enter brave new territory as they’re relying on lesser known properties and are venturing into some risky ideas. This summer, Ant-Man showed that lesser known heroes can still make a big splash, even though I’m unsure how Ant-Man can be considered ‘lesser known’. He founded the Avengers for god’s sake! But introducing magic is going to be interesting as it will either break the MCU wide open to a whole slew of story options or its going to cause the MCU to fall apart. Marvel are being very cautious as they’re moving forward and for good reason. As the rest of The Defenders rolls out, there’s some things to be learned from the ground breaking first two seasons.
The biggest thing to focus on is story cohesion over the entire season. Daredevil did this perfectly. The whole season rolled out with minimal asides but each aside, like Wilson Fisks back story or the Stick episode, added to the show as opposed to derailing its momentum. Daredevil moved forward, building momentum until the climactic ending. Jessica Jones, did not.
Somewhere around episode 8 and 9, Jones lost its way a bit. The conflict with Kilgrave came to a head, but they seemed to have forgotten that they had several episodes left which resulted in some repeated story beats until they could draw it out until the end. Meanwhile, the storylines with Cage, Trish, Hogarth and Simpson all continued to develop which gave the show a bit of lopsided momentum. It did culminate into a fairly satisfying ending, though the final showdown did lack a certain je ne sais quoi. The hiccup JJ ran into is not treating the Netflix model like a season of a TV show. It ran all out but forgot about the home stretch and burnt itself out. Remembering that, despite being a streaming service, your season on Netflix is still ultimately a TV season will greatly benefit the other two shows.
Another thing that I hope they remember to keep is the terrific slew of side characters and the great balance of action and character development. Both shows excelled at this and even when Jessica was going through a ‘how to stop Kilgrave’ moment for the dozenth time, they never forget to keep growing her as a person. Same with Trish, Simpson, Foggy, Karen or even Jeri. Obviously our heroes are going to have the biggest arcs but the journey is half of the fun. Watching everyone get their on their own and through their own trials and tribulations elevates a show into that ‘great’ area of conversation.
The Defenders has done a lot of groundwork with the first two series. With so much established for the Universe, they have also set the bar sky high with two amazing seasons of television. As they continue to roll out their heroes for us to consume in short spans of time, I’m certainly confident that they keep up the high level of quality that has made this Defenders endeavour such a smashing success so far. Great heroes, great villains and great supporting casts have helped establish Marvel not as just a great place to find great comic books or great big budget blockbusters, but also a place to find premier television. With only a few months before the next phase comes to our screens in Luke Cage’s solo outing, and Iron Fist soon after, I’m quietly allowing myself to get very excited instead of being concerned with how it will turn out. Daredevil and Jessica Jones have been top notch examples of how to bring super heroes to the small screen. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the same from The Defenders.